A Little Lenny Bruce

I’m sitting at my desk, avoiding some work I must do in order to do some work I want to do, and I’m reading Lenny Bruce, a chapter of The Essential Lenny Bruce called “What Is Obscene?” And with his hip Jewish druggie oft-sexist charm, Lenny spells it out by differentiating between “obscene” and “disgusting.” It’s all about arousal, he argues. If it turns you on, it’s obscene. If it offends you, it’s disgusting and, hence, not obscene.

He celebrates the importance of the First Amendment and ridicules our use of it. We can deny others’ gods, say “A fat slob, the Buddha” or “go in front of a synagogue and sing about pork.” We can disrespect any group we want, “Cause that’s our right—to be disgusting.” After all, “[T]he reason we left England was just for that right, to be disgusting.”

But obscenity is about arousing the “prurient interest,” about turning people on. And, Lenny says, “The prurient interest is like the steel interest. What’s wrong with appealing to the prurient interest? We appeal to the killing interest.” And, more, he notes the classism here. If I write about trailer trash having vivid, graphic, sloppy sex, then that’s obscene. But if I’m “classy” about it, if I know how to “handle” the sex scenes with artistic beauty (he talks about Lady Chatterly's Lover as an example), if it emerges as “legit” art, then I’m far less likely to be prosecuted. In Lenny’s words, “So, in the opinion of this court, we punish untalented artists.”


Grace said...

oh that was a sweet treat, thanx for the Lenny

irreme seshat said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
irreme seshat said...

this distinction strikes me as reversible and problematic, the one between the obscene and the disqusting. at the same time i want to hear more about it. i find myself drawn closer and closer to the...disqusting, the obscene? i don't and wouldn't make that distinction, which actually strikes me as another kind of classism. at least as a classification. i'm not saying classification is bad in itself here, i guess i'd like to know what's at stake in the distinction.
it's four in the mournig, but instead of the end of decemeber, it's march. i'm sitting here thinking about the lovelyness of mourning and if i'll be up for it. hugs

he who is known as sefton said...


Maybe, just maybe, you're wondering how come you're so privileged as to receive this communiqué. Well, answer is simple, thanks to http://search.blogger.com/?ui=blg&q=Lenny+Bruce, I found the u.r.l to your website.

After perusing your website, I conjectured you'd be interested in my post titled, "sweetest nookie". In this post, you'll find some notions about how Lenny, were he around today, might comment about the recent kerfuffle in the Middle East.

Anyway, you'll find the hyperlink to the post just below